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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

RILKE                                         183

Thus ends the sheer inexhaustible poetry of Das Stmdenbuch.
To many it will be - like Blake for instance - a mass of crazy
images; to others it will be a gospel, perhaps the old gospel
interpreted anew, but certainly an inspired gospel.

For a full intelligence of Rilke's conception of death and of his
attitude to the great cities study of Die Axfcficbnungen des Malte
Laurids Brigge (1909) is essential. If it is a novel it is one with
practically no story; one might group it with the waves-of-con-
sciousness novels. It is the retrospect, in Paris, of a very nebulous
youth, very poor and very ill, and very near to mental derange-
ment. He is the last scion of an ancient Danish family - on his
mother's side he is a Brahe; but the essential thing is that he is a
fin-de-siech poet in Paris differing only by greater morbidity and
more poignant mental complications from the German artists in
Paris of the earlier Kunstlernovelle (the heroes of Die gute Schule and
Tino Moralf). The city is shown as it reflects itself in his diseased
imagination, a nightmare city, leprous and lecherous. He is isol-
ated, brooding, baffled. He has the feeling that the electric trams
crash through his attic and that motor cars run over him. Still
more awful is the silence of the city. ('Das sinddie Gerausche. Aber
esgibt hier etwas, was furchtbarer ist: die Stille?} The city stinks; as
all cities do in summer. He is hallucinated by the stains of a w.c.
pipe where a house has been demolished. If he goes out what he
sees is hospital after hospital. The Hotel-Dieu looms over him.
1 Dieses ausge^eichnete Hotel ist sehr alt., schon %u Konig Chlodmgs Zeiten
starb man darin in einigen Betten. ]eP%t n>ird in jj$ Betten gestorben.
Naturlichfabrikmassig. .. Man stirbt, me es gerade kommt; man stirbt
den Tod> der %u der Krankbeitgehort, die man hat.'' In all these feverish
divagations there is no pretence of cohesion: the dream-like pro-
cession of the years of childhood flit between the crass pictures of
Paris streets and hospitals and the visions of old France. Malte is
of course Rilke (though the poet denied it), Rilke calling back and
idealizing his own childhood and years of growth. But the Danish
fiction of the memories is well rendered, from the experience of
the 1904 visit to Denmark and the moods and colouring of J. P.
Jacobsen's tales. The lesson of Malte is that which Rilke learned
for himself: that the artist must not escape from life into dream,
but accept it integrally, with all its disease and putrition; accept
even the great cities, for the great city is reality, which it is the
poet's task to re-create in art, not because he loves the things that